1981 Works


Shown in the 1991 Arkley survey at Monash; variants of the furniture in Muzak Mural – Chair Tableau (1980-81) [3/M].
First shown with related drawings at Tolarno in July 1981; later incorporated into Logitex (table and chair tableau) (1980-84) [3/M].
Unique installation shown at the Brisbane Institute of Modern Art in July 1981.
Unique installation for Australian Perspecta, May 1981; chairs and tiling later incorporated into Muzak Mural – Chair Tableau (1980-81) [3/M].


A complex blend of references underpins this work, from the Disco music of the day to pattern painting and Op Art.
This canvas, first certainly documented in 2002, was probably exhibited at Tolarno in 1981.
The pattern reprises that used for Arabesque [aka Floral] 1979.
This work, recorded in archive photos, was shown at Tolarno in 1981.
Canvas shown in 1981 as 'Logitec' and apparently subsequently incorporated into Logitex (table and chair tableau) (1980-84) [3/M].
This key painting, featuring complex optical effects, is based on elements drawn from a book of Islamic patterns owned by Arkley.
Optically complex patterned canvas first shown at Tolarno in July 1981.
This canvas was first shown in the McCaughey Prize exhibition at the NGV in August 1981.
A scantily documented work known through an archive photo; sold in 1989.
Diptych related to Primitive (1981) [W/P], Primitive Gold 1982 and Primitive Silver 1982.
Canvas first shown at Tolarno in 1981, then at Monash (1991) and in the 2006-7 Arkley retrospective.
Gridded canvas shown at both Tolarno and Solander in 1981.
This canvas references a complex array of sources, including Op Art and Amish quilts.
This canvas, a smaller variant of Ornamentik (1981), appeared at auction in 2004.
Work documented by Arkley archive photos, 1981-2; not exhibited?
Work known only through an archive slide; not exhibited?; extant?
Arkley’s studio photo (reproduced here), the sole source, is undated but probably dates from c.1981, and may show the work in process.

Works on Paper

This work, evidently similar in its patterning to Disco (1981), was shown in Arkley's solo exhibition at the Solander Gallery in October 1981.
Unidentified work on paper, possibly identical with Untitled ['Abstract'] 1981 [W/P].
This idiosyncratic work combines imagery related to Primitive with a loosely painted coloured background.
Work on paper variant of Lattice and Grids 1981 [aka 'Lattices'].
Seminal work blending Punk and comic-book sources with elements from Arkley's everyday life in early 80s Prahran.
Unidentified; possibly a small variant of Primitive [mural] (1981) [W/P].
Work on paper variant of Printout Red/Blue 1980 and Printout 1981, shown at Solander 10/81.
Work on paper related to Logitex (a hooked rug) (1981) [3/M].
First shown in Arkley's 1991 Monash survey exhibition, this work is a variant of Red Wedge [#1] 1981 [W/P].
Work on paper shown in Arkley's solo exhibition at Solander Oct.1981.
A close relative of Ornamentik (1981) and Untitled [Ornamentik variant] (1981?).
This surrealist head is painted on a newspaper page.
Large work on paper possibly shown at Tolarno in 1981; extant?
An elegant, small sprayed work on paper reproduced in the catalogue/brochure for Arkley’s Brisbane IMA mural (July 1981).
First documented in 1981, this shaped work was included in Arkley's 'Casual Works' show in 1988.

Works on Paper Minor

Arkley's archive includes sketches related to various contemporary works, including Primitive and the 'Red Wedge' (Logitex) carpet and related works.

HA at Prahran studio c.1981

(photos reproduced here: above: Arkley surveying his domain from the entrance to his Windsor studio, c.1981 [archive photo]; below left: Primitive, sheet 16, bottom row, left of centre, including man at door and telephone [showing the work before restoration, in 2000 [photo: John Gregory]; below right: Primitive exhibition invitation [artist’s archive])

During the first half of 1981, Arkley was working on various pattern-based projects, including the completion of Muzak Mural – Chair Tableau (1980-81) [3/M] (see 1980); plans for the large-scale application of his sprayed dot system in Wall Painting (Muzak Mural) (1981) [3/M], unveiled in Brisbane earlier in July; and a series of new patterned works shown at Tolarno (also early in July), and then later in Canberra (Solander Gallery, October).

However, in July, he dramatically transformed himself into a figurative artist overtly aligned with the lineage of Punk, graffiti and popular culture. In one sense, this change literally happened overnight: with his creation of Primitive [mural] (1981) [W/P] in his Windsor studio one night late in July – an episode given legendary status by Crawford and Edgar in 1997 (Spray 6-9), and since elaborated several times. On a deeper level, though, this breakthrough had been brewing for some years, as Arkley explored a plethora of cultural and artistic stimuli in the mid to late 70s, while experimenting privately with figuration in his sketchbooks and visual diaries (see separate entries).

Primitive itself, in its intricately detailed reference to events and stimuli surrounding him, was a sort of huge diaristic response to Arkley’s everyday life, both actual and imaginary, in inner-city Prahran. In turn, it would provide him with a rich repertoire of imagery for future reference and adaptation.

Key publications during 1981 (for details, see bibliography) included a major Age review of Arkley’s Tolarno show by Robert Rooney; Paul Taylor’s influential article on Arkley and his contemporaries’ contribution to ‘new wave’ and ‘second degree’ developments in Australian art, published in the inaugural issue of Taylor’s new journal Art + Text; the catalogue essay for Arkley’s Muzak Mural installation at the IMA in Brisbane (also by Taylor); and an article in Art & Australia by Janine Burke, emphasising Arkley’s participation in the development of domestic alternatives to mainstream tendencies in contemporary abstraction.

Photos dating from 1981 include several of Arkley and friends taken at Paul Taylor’s South Yarra flat after the opening of Arkley’s Tolarno exhibition on 4 July (photos by Elizabeth Gower et al. in Arkley’s archive; example reproduced in Carnival Fig.4.3).

1981 Exhibitions

Australian Perspecta, AGNSW, May 1981 (curated by Bernice Murphy)


‘Howard Arkley: Recent Works’, Tolarno, July 1981

– refer linked entry for full details


‘Howard Arkley: Wall Painting (Muzak Mural)’, Institute of Modern Art, 24 Market Street, Brisbane, 7-30 July 1981

‘Howard Arkley: (Figurative) – A Working Drawing’, Prahran College of Advanced Education Gallery, 20 July-3 August 1981 (flyer reproduced here [archive copy])

John McCaughey Memorial Art Prize 1981, National Gallery of Victoria, 19 Aug.-27 Sept. 1981

‘Howard Arkley: Recent Works’, Solander Gallery, Canberra, Oct.- Nov. 1981

– refer linked entry for full details

1981 Capital Permanent Award, Geelong Art Gallery, late 1981 – 17 Jan.1982